I’m not sure what I expected from pregnancy: some sort of stately affair in which I, the glowing pregnant woman, would be the subject of reverence? That idea went out the window pretty quickly, as my experience was less Duchess of Cambridge and more Hot Mess Express. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone manages to summon any degree of poise while expecting. Maybe it’s that social convention throughout history has prevented women from really telling like it is, or maybe I’m just not handling it all that well, but I can’t help but feel like pregnancy stole my dignity.
It seems to me that the moment I see those two pink lines, pregnancy begins to put me through my paces. For the first 20 weeks of my first pregnancy and the first 16 of my second, I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, or severe nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. I threw up literally every day, sometimes multiple times, and the nausea and fatigue were utterly debilitating. Believe me, it is quite a challenge to maintain your self-respect when your husband has to haul you out of the basket of dirty laundry into which you’ve collapsed or when you’ve just regurgitated chicken noodle soup and orange Gatorade onto your chest.
Hyperemesis is horrible (enough so that I’ve decided to cap my family at two children), but there’s nothing quite like incontinence to make you feel like your body has betrayed you. Lack of bladder control is often worse during subsequent pregnancies due to damage to your pelvic floor muscles. It’s bad enough to pee a little every time you cough or sneeze (for me, a chronic cough during pregnancy means that I’m putting incontinence pads in my grocery cart). But spontaneously emptying my bladder on the bathroom floor due the force of my own vomiting just adds insult to injury.
Stress-induced incontinence often subsides along with the morning sickness… just in time to give way to everyone’s favorite pregnancy problem: hemorrhoids. I had the thrombosed variety with both my babies. Let me tell you, it’s a real challenge to maintain any semblance of dignity when you can’t comfortably sit, and lugging around a doughnut-shaped pillow is a dead giveaway. Treatment (which unfortunately meant surgery for me) makes it better physically, but speaking from experience, the damage to your ego after your partner has to change your butt dressings is irreversible.
The whole experience of pregnancy is exacerbated by the onslaught of hormones, and the effects on your physical person are nothing compared to what they do to your emotional state. The increase in production of progesterone and estrogen that I experience during pregnancy is basically a cocktail of crazy. That’s not something I say lightly, especially as someone who suffers from multiple mental health disorders. It just adds to my feelings of instability to not be able to regulate my moods, as evidenced by the panic attack I had when my husband invited five extra guests to my daughter’s third birthday party.
As your pregnancy progresses, you (no surprise here) get bigger, but that big belly also changes your center of gravity. That, in combination with your relaxed joints, can make you awfully clumsy (and not in a cute Fergie kind of way). I slipped on a piece of cardboard that was left on our tile floor after my 3-year-old had opened her birthday presents and was thankfully bolstered by my friends. As a dancer, however, I was embarrassed by my inability to catch myself. That was nothing compared to the backyard barbecue, however, when I attempted to scoot back onto a picnic blanket, lost my balance, and rolled — where I remained like a turtle stuck on its back until someone stopped laughing long enough to come to my rescue.
It’s hard to get anyone to take you seriously after something like that, so don’t be surprised if, like me, you misplace your modesty. I’m frankly shocked by the level of personal disarray that I’m willing to deem as acceptable for public consumption. Honestly, what the grocery store clerk thinks of my sweatpants and messy bun isn’t nearly as important as making sure there’s food in the house for my family. Speaking of my home, it’s basically a no-pants zone, especially during this Texas summer. I am sure passersby have gotten more than they bargained for if they’ve strolled by my house on a walk through the neighborhood.
Pregnancy may have absconded with my dignity, but at the end of the day, I’m still left with gratitude. I know that anyone struggling with infertility would gladly trade a little propriety for the gift of carrying and delivering a precious baby. It’s pretty amazing what my body is able to do, even if growing life is a little less tidy than I’d hoped for. And so I will pull on my white cotton granny panties and waddle through my day, content in the knowledge that the trials and tribulations of pregnancy are ultimately a small price to pay for the little one on his way.